Here at Kindredhq, we are naturally very interested in the huge cultural shifts that are playing out in front of us. We are excited by the movement towards greater flexibility in work, collaboration rather than competition and less corporate control.
We aren’t the first to recognise this and in fact you could say that this movement has been continually evolving over the past decade. But it’s not that easy to get a handle on what is really happening behind the numbers.
What interests us is whether or not this movement has really come of age, or whether it is a lasting legacy of the economic situation. Let’s look at the evidence.
This month’s ONS employment figures highlighted the pattern of flexible and self-employed working patterns. The data shows that self-employment hit a record high of 4.14 million in autumn 2011, eight per cent higher than in spring 2008.
The economic downturn could lead to a lasting reconfiguration of the employment landscape in the UK as brilliantly highlighted by PCG, the freelance organisation behind National Freelancers Day, who commissioned research alongside Cranfield University. They make an interesting point about the journey towards a freelance generation.
“We need to take the recognition of the role of freelancers on the same journey as entrepreneurship in successful modern economies. In the 1970s entrepreneurs in Britain were viewed as people who made money by ‘exploiting workers’ and not surprisingly few people wanted to be associated with entrepreneurship. Today entrepreneurs are known as job and wealth creators who bring to market new products and services which enhance people’s lives. Importantly, these contributions are celebrated. Today entrepreneurs receive industry awards, knighthoods and become media stars.
The incredible contribution that freelancers make to the economy is not sufficiently recognised and celebrated. We need to change this if we want a vibrant agile economy.”
But the issue is that ‘the freelance generation’ is, by its very nature, difficult to define. We have used many different terms, but none of them quite describe this group of people.
That’s because we believe that being a freelancer/contractor/free spirit/consultant/whatever is about attitude not numbers. It is both being free to be your own boss, but collaborating for mutual success and benefit too. Basically, about being a human being rather than an employee with a payroll number. ‘Small business labs’, from Emergent Research, outlines a number of trends for 2012 and at the top of their list:
“A trend that has rippled through our research the past couple of years – and especially in 2011 – is the growing dissatisfaction with our de-humanized world. Corporate employees tell us they are tired of being cogs in the enterprise machine. Independent workers tell us they highly value the work/life flexibility and control independence provides. Consumers tell us they are looking for authenticity and honesty from the companies they buy from. People in general tell us they are focusing more (or would like to focus more) on human relationships with their families, friends, business associates and communities”
To see this in action, just join any of the Open Coffee meet ups, or groups like The Tuttle Club, probably the best known movement of its sort in the UK. A loose collaboration of free spirits that first convened at the Coach and Horses in Soho, London in 2008 and that is now meeting at the Centre for Collaborative Creativity. A few nomadic, talented bloggers and natives of the social web who get together once a week over coffee.
Lloyd Davis, the man behind Tuttle explains what’s behind the movement:
“Thinking about Harry Tuttle. Harry is a Freelance Heating Engineer in a world where such things are illegal. Central Services call Harry a terrorist.
Harry appears briefly two or three times in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Harry, played by Robert De Niro, and his attitude to paperwork and bureaucracy just struck a chord with me.
Harry’s spirit is summed up when the hero, Sam Lowry asks Harry about his broken-down, over-engineered, bodged together heating system. Sam says “Can you fix it?” “No,” says Harry, “but I can *bypass* it”. And that’s what I see again and again among this band of misfit, oddball geniuses who I bump into around the web and it’s physical outcroppings, many of whom I now call “friend” and not just in a Facebook kind of way.”
There is a prevailing sense now that many of us are choosing to work our way around the monoliths, not accepting the status quo just because that’s the way it has always been. The fact that many of us find ourselves in the position of having to re-evaluate our approach to making a living and choose to go freelance because we have to, is not necessarily a bad thing although there have been moments where it would simply have been easier to go back into a full time job.
Let’s face it, whether you chose this free-range life or you found yourself there, it is clear that freelancers will play a much bigger part in the economy of the future. You can expect to see more products and services that are designed to appeal to freelancers. We will have tons more purchasing power than we currently do, and once we’ve demonstrated that we can be part of turning around the economy, we really will have established ourselves as a force for change.
What do you reckon?